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Current Question for Discussion

Every so often a question is brought to the attention of the mentor experts. The questions are posted here so that all visitors can participate in providing answers. Every sixteen weeks a draw is held and all those entries responding to the question during that period are eligible to win. The prize for responses to the current question is a Mentors Coffee Cup and Mentor Pin

The contest period will end December 30, 2014

Many people ask us about the origin of the term mentor. One story is commonly cited in most articles about mentoring, but it's more likely that this frequently-told tale is just one author copying the details from secondary sources. Most writers don't have the ability to translate from the original sources, and so it's possible that myth has become reality. The challenge in this question period is for visitors to make up a story (use your imagination) about the origin of the terms "mentor" or "mentoring," or comment on any of the existing stories. Here are five sample stories:
In Homer's Odyssey, Mentor is a trusted friend to whom Ulysses leaves the care of his household when he departs for the Trojan War (a ten-year battle). The goddess Athena assumes the form of Mentor and cares for Ulysses' son, Telemachus, until the war's conclusion. Some variations of this story state that she actually accompanies Telemachus on his journey to search for his father at the end of the war. Some variations describe Mentor as a man. This story has reached mythical proportions and is probably the most widely-cited story, but how many modern writers have actually read the Odyssey in its original Greek version? In 1698 François Fénelon was appointed by King Louis XIV as a tutor to the king's grandson, the Duke of Burgundy. He provided instruction to his pupil through his didactic epic, Le Adventures de Télémaque (1699), the most popular book written in the 18th century. Fénelon uses the term "sage counselor" to describe his main character, the goddess Minerva who appears as Mentor. The book is clearly an imitation of Homer's The Odyssey, and the lessons expounded in the book by Mentor are both more educational than Homer's Mentor and directed towards guiding his pupil in how to become a peaceful and wise monarch. The political views that Fénelon put in the mouth of Mentor, however, offended the king's position on these same issues. As a result Fénelon was forced to leave the employment of the king for less challenging activities. In ancient Africa, prior to the time of the Greek and Roman invasions, when a child was born, each village shared the responsibility for raising and educating the child into the customs and traditions associated with that village. This practice continues today and has become the rallying mantra: "It takes a village to raise a child." But a more detailed examination of this ancient practice revealed that while the child had contact with every member of the village, there was always one older child (not a family member) who would be assigned the responsibility to ask questions and listen carefully to the younger child. In Swahili (one of the oldest languages on our planet), this questioning person was called, "Habari gani menta" which, in English, means, the person who asks "What's happening?" La Grotte de Niaux is a prehistoric cave located high in the Pyrenees in southern France. After walking through the silent and womb-like stillness, a visitor emerges into a large, domed space filled with ceiling paintings, estimated to have been created somewhere between 12,000 and 9,000 BC. While most of the paintings depict horses and bison, there is one theme that is repeated in many places. This painting shows a group of men taking children to what at that time was considered the edge or end of their physical world. The men exhort the children to be brave and expand their reach beyond the borders of the present world. Some believe that the origin of the term "mentor" comes from what has been loosely translated in these ancient depictions as "men" taking children on a "tour." Although Odin was the chief god in the Norse mythology, at around 550 AD there was a small group of Vikings who pledged exclusive allegiance to Thor, son of Odin and god of thunder, the sky and fertility. Thor had a reputation of being particularly fierce and brutal towards his enemies, and so did his group of dedicated followers. When plundering a village or settlement, they would kill every man, woman, and child, as well as any livestock that they couldn't eat or carry away. However, before executing their hapless victims, these fierce brutes would choose one male child to become a member of their clan. One of the older Vikings would be assigned to teach and train the boy in their ways and customs, and in this manner the child would become one of the feared "men of Thor". The word "mentor" is believed to have originated from this bizarre relationship between the captured boy and his Viking custodian. (Thanks to Manie Bosman for researching this story.)

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 View Other Answers or Comments for the Current Question:

  • Nia Varadalas from Winnipeg says: "Thanks for providing these interesting stories. I particularly liked story number four!"

  • Stephen Harper from Ottawa says: "Reading these stories has helped to refine my own storytelling."

  • Willliam Shatner from Montreal says: "These mentoring stories have helped me to go forth and prosper."

  • Pamela Anderson from Ladysmith says: "When my show was cancelled my recall of these stories boosted my spirit."

  • Jim Carrey from Newmarket says: "Eventhough I'm the highest paid Canadian actor, I remember my roots and why it's important to have a story to tell.

  • Rachel McAdams from London "says, "Growing up in Canada boosted my power to be part of any story."

  • Neil Young from Winnipeg says: "I've been telling stories through my music ever since I can remember, and the ones I've read here make me think of how important it is to have pure tone."

  • Ryan Reynolds from Vancouver says, "Don't bury these stories."

View Responses to Our Previous Questions:
  • What would you say was the key difference between a mentor and a coach? (View responses)
  • What was the most difficult thing you had to do as a mentor? (View responses)
  • Name a mentor/partner pairing where at least one of the persons might be considered well-known or famous. (View responses)
  • What evidence is there that mentoring makes a difference? (View responses)
  • What mentor sites on the Internet would you recommend and why? (View responses)
  • What is your favorite or most valued definition of a mentor? (View responses)
  • What advice do you have for a person seeking a mentor? (View responses)
  • What was the most influential comment a mentor made to you? (View responses)
  • What are the the best instruments for matching mentors with partners? (View responses)
  • What are the advantages or disadvantages of matching males with females in a mentoring relationship? (View responses)
  • The person receiving mentoring is often called a protege, mentee, or partner. What term would you choose and why does it make sense? (View responses)
  • If there is not personal chemistry in the mentoring relationship, can the pairing still be effective? (View responses)
  • Does a person who is self-directed need a mentor? (View responses)
  • What are the differences between coaching and mentoring? (View responses)
  • As a mentor what questions have you asked that proved to be the most engaging or valuable? (View responses)
  • What are some successful and unsuccessful ways of ending a mentoring relationship? (View responses)
  • If you could select anyone to be your mentor (from history or living today), who would you select and why? (View responses)
  • Not all experts agree on the best way to match mentors and partners. What method would you suggest and why? (View responses)
  • What action should a mentor take when he or she learns that his or her mentoring partner has acted in an unethical way, such as making false statements about qualifications on his/her resume? (View responses)
  • The catastrophic events in the United States on September 11 caused much anguish, pain and grief. In what way did (should) your mentoring relationship manage this unprecedented horror? (View responses)
  • What is the most important thing you have learned as the result of a mentoring relationship? (View responses)
  • If you were to select a quotation to share in a mentoring relationship, what would it be? (View Responses)
  • What evidence can you site that shows that mentoring works? (View Responses)
  • At least two published works on mentoring have suggested that individuals can be mentored by events, writing of others, nature or other circumstances that do not involve a personal, one-to-one relationship. Describe how you have had such a mentoring experience. (View Responses)
  • The Internet has helped make a wide variety of resources available about mentorship. Which resource (website, service, etc.) would you recommend as being the best? And what is the reason for your choice. (View Responses)
  • What, if any, is the relationship between gender and mentoring results or outcomes? (View Responses)
  • A major mentoring organization is proposing a set of standards for mentoring programs. In what way(s) might such standards help or hinder the development of quality mentoring programs and services? (View Responses)
  • It's rare that mentorship is the subject of jokes or stories told by comedians. However, there must be funny stories. As a change of pace from our more serious questions, please leave a funny story or joke about mentoring. (View Responses)

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